Annual Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Honorary Lecture

The Konrad Adenauer Foundation in cooperation with the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert (FVZS) Institute for Student Leadership Development cordially invites you to the annual Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Honorary Lecture with Marianne Thamm.


Please RSVP here online before 9 August 2019. Please contact fvzs@sun.ac.za for further enquiries. 

Marianne Thamm is a South African journalist, author and stand-up comedian. She is well known for the quality of her research, confronting uncomfortable narrative spaces and social courage. She is the assistant editor and a frequent presence on the Daily Maverick  and has written several books. In 2016 she released the memoir, Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and me. 

In July 2019, Ms Thamm caused wide comment by exposing the gap between the rhetoric of the EFF and their private behaviour, published in the Daily Maverick

About the lecture series

The Annual FVZS Honorary Lecture series funded by KAS forms part of a series of activities hosted by the FVZS Institute for Student Leadership, aiming to promote democracy, good governance and political leadership in South Africa.

The lecture named after Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, a great South African politician and democrat, aims to stimulate critical debate about the state of democracy in Sub- Saharan Africa, in particular amongst young South Africans. The activity honours the legacy of the late Dr Frederik van Zyl Slabbert through exploring principles that he stood for and shared thus encouraging others to follow in his footsteps. As such the activity set the tone for further conversation(s) around the specific theme and the legacy of Van Zyl Slabbert in the formal and informal activities of the FVZS Institute. 

The annual lecture is a high-profile event with a distinguished key-note speaker that attracts students as well as representatives from business, politics, academia, civil society and the media. The lecture, followed by a reception provides students with a unique opportunity to get deeper insights into topical political as well as socio-economic issues and engage with high-profile speakers.

Frederik van Zyl Slabbert (1940 -2010)

Key points

  • A leading opponent of the apartheid system in South Africa
  • In 1987, he organized a delegation of Afrikaners to Dakar, Senegal, to meet members of the African National Congress in exile. The meeting is considered one of the important steps in the effort to persuade white South Africans that the country should make a transition to majority rule
  • In 2002, he was appointed by then-President Thabi Mbeki to head an investigation into electoral reform in South Africa. Its recommendations (a more accountable mix of constituency-based and proportional representation) were strongly supported by most political experts and KAS but shelved by South African government and politicians. 

Van Zyl Slabbert was a leading opponent of the apartheid system in South Africa. He had led the small parliamentary opposition until he resigned from parliament in 1986 because he considered that he could wage the struggle against apartheid more effectively outside that body. In 1987, he organized a delegation of Afrikaners to Dakar, Senegal, to meet members of the African National Congress in exile. The meeting is considered one of the important steps in the effort to persuade white South Africans that the country should make a transition to majority rule. Van Zyl Slabbert was the founding chair of the Open Society Foundation of South Africa in 1993.

His opposition to Apartheid began early in his academic career. Through his work in sociology and his contact with Black people through his studies and the church, and students, Slabbert developed an interest in politics. His studies led him to reject separate development and he stood for the Students' Representative Council, a position he lost because he was considered to be too liberal. This did not deter him and he held discussions, seminars and lectures on politics, and even tried to start a student newspaper with an editorial approach opposite to that of the government.

He joined the Progressive Party and in 1974 Slabbert accepted anomination to stand for Rondebosch in the general election. He did not expect to win the seat, but triumphed over the National Party (NP) representative by 1 600 votes. He continued to hold the seat for the Progressive Federal party (PFP) in 1977 and 1981. Slabbert played an important role in the development of the PFP's ideology and was chairman of its Constitutional Committee, which drafted the party's policy accepted in 1978. In 1979 he became leader of the PFP and the parliamentary opposition, a position he held until 1986. He had also been invited to become the Dean at the University of Cape Town.

He with Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, launched the National Convention Movement in an unsuccessful attempt to pressure the government to negotiate with all political groups.

Slabbert resigned from his position as parliamentarian in 1986.. He felt that negotiation between Black and White people was better than conflict.  In 1987 he re-entered politics and began contact with the ANC in exile, which resulted in the Dakar conference between the liberation movement and a group of mainly Afrikaner politicians, academics and businessmen. The conference was organised by IDASA, the Institute for a Democratic South Africa, of which he became director of policy and planning, co-formed with Alex Boraine in July 1986.  He began a career in commerce by lecturing at the Wits Business School and engaged in political consultancy.

Slabbert received awards to visit several countries, like the Abe Bailey Travel Bursary to the United Kingdom in 1964. He also toured Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia with Colin Eglin in 1975 and won the American Cultural Exchange Award in 1976. He went to international conferences and delivered papers in the United States of America (USA) and Western Europe. In 1977 he was a research fellow at the Bergstraesser Institute for Social Research in Freiburg, West Germany. Slabbert jointly wrote a book with Professor D. Welsh called ‘South Africa's Options: Strategies for Sharing Power', which was published in 1979, as well as papers and articles for several publications.

He was conferred with honorary doctorates from Simon Fraser University in Canada and the Universities of Kwazulu-Natal and the Free State.  He received both the Abe Bailey Travel Scholarship and the American Cultural Exchange Scholarship. He was a visiting scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in November 1982. He co-founded Khula, a Black investment trust in 1990.  

In 2002 then-president Thabo Mbeki appointed him to head a team investigating a new electoral system for South Africa.  Its recommendation, a more accountable mix of constituency-based and proportional representation, was quietly shelved by the Government.

Van Zyl Slabbert was installed as Stellenbosch University's new Chancellor on 12 May 2008.

Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, passed away on 14 May 2010. 

(source: SA History and Open Society Foundations)

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Wallenberg Research Centre, Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS), 10 Marais Street, Stellenbosch


Annual Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Honorary Lecture: With Marianne Thamm
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Christiaan Endres

Christiaan Endres

Project Manager (KAS-Office Cape Town)

Christiaan.Endres@kas.de +27 (21) 422 1796 +27 (0) 21 422 1733